By Katherine Rich, Chief Executive, NZ Food and Grocery Council

Many shoppers don’t appreciate how challenging working in retail can be, particularly for those who own or manage a supermarket.

There are the usual responsibilities and challenges that go with running a big staff on a seven-day operation – the paperwork, the many staffing issues that can arise, the compliance, the safety aspects, dealing with supplier representatives, getting on top of the latest product fads or trends, handling the (thankfully) not-too-often product recalls … it goes on. The bigger the store, the bigger the responsibility, the bigger the challenge.

That’s the everyday business-as-usual stuff that any retailer expects to have to deal with. And the workload grows as the business grows.

But there’s one side of retailing that’s showing growth that’s far from welcome – retail crime.

I was shocked recently when Retail NZ produced figures on retail crime. They estimated that last year the retail industry suffered an estimated $1.2 billion of ‘shrinkage’ (the loss of goods due to counting or recording errors, spoilage, theft or wastage). Of that, crime accounted for a massive $1 billion.

Retail NZ said that’s similar in economic value to the cost of all road deaths in New Zealand in 2015, or the total social cost of drug-related harms and intervention costs.

The retail figure includes not just random theft by shoppers who stuff goods into bags or under jackets, but also those who cheat their way through self-checkout kiosks by scanning a cheap bottle of wine twice when one is top of the range. It also includes organised gangs who descend on stores, distracting staff while goods are uplifted. And it’s staff who might take goods home at night, or who don’t ring-up all goods for friends at the checkout.

One supermarket owner said it costs him more than $100,000 a year to have a security guard on duty between 7am and 10pm, seven days a week, and to have a company review CCTV footage from store cameras. He said he would rather put that money into lower prices and events in the community, but accepts it’s another cost of doing business.

It’s sad that retail crime is forcing businesses to take such measures to protect their livelihoods. And it’s not just the big supermarkets – it’s also the corner dairies who suffer awful attacks but which are too small to employ guards.

Retail NZ says retailers frequently don’t report incidents because Police don’t treat them as a priority, and because the prosecution process is cumbersome and time-consuming. Food and grocery retailers have told me that these findings are spot on.

It seems to me that retailers are also shrugging their shoulders because the law has no teeth. They often won’t confront suspected shoplifters because physically restraining them can result in a claim of assault against the shopkeeper, if not an actual assault on the shopkeeper.

The Police are doing the best they can with the resources they have, and perhaps things will improve as the 880 new staff being recruited start their jobs.

Retail NZ wants a Police Retail Crime Taskforce, a programme that helps people understand the impact of crime and the importance of property rights, and a system where Police can impose fines for small offences.

Retail crime isn’t a cost to suppliers but it’s hitting retailers hard, and these ideas are worth looking at. While the government appeared to dismiss some of Retail NZ’s constructive solutions, I was heartened to read Labour MP Stuart Nash’s comment that some of the proposals, such as spot fines for shoplifters, were an “elegant solution to a growing problem.”